Amidst the barrage of publicly broadcasted New Year’s resolutions I’ve consistently noticed the aspiration to read a ton of books. Reading is awesome. I thoroughly enjoy it. But I wonder if the people that are planning to take down a small library this year aspire to do this for the right reasons. This trend is in direct alignment with a pervasive behavior I’ve decided to leave behind in my journey to progress my career.
I like to think about how I spend my time professionally bettering myself in terms of inputs and outputs.
Input noun definition: something that is put in. In this context, I think about inputs as things I consume ranging from blog posts, books, conversations, videos etc. Inputs are meant to enhance outputs.
Output noun definition: something that is turned out or produced. I think of outputs as the products that result from my labor. Actual things my time and energy create like email pitches, blog posts, web sites etc. These all fall into the output category.
There was a period when my time was massively dominated by inputs. I was reading my google reader every night, buying AppSumo videos like it was my job, and the list of startup books I wanted to read grew by at least 3 every week. I was a good little startup boy!
I love learning and enjoy reading. But the bottom line is I did this stuff because I thought it would get me to the top the fastest.
What I’ve come to realize is that all of these inputs are only valuable IF THEY ENHANCE YOUR OUTPUT (within the context of furthering your career). In some cases, there would be a direct correlation, but to say that this was the most effective use of my time is inaccurate.
In the past 3 months I’ve looked at my google reader 4 times, read parts of 2 non-fiction books, and usually spend no more than 5 minutes on twitter a day. I spend my non-work “work” hours writing, building relationships, and dabbling on a few non-tech projects. My guilty pleasure has become Quora, but I contribute about as much original content as I consume.
The difference when I focus on outputs: My thoughts are much clearer. I’m progressing professionally at a much faster rate. I’ve internalized more. Instead of being familiar with many things, I’ve felt like I’m getting pretty good at a few very valuable things. I have more money because I’ve stopped buying “SEO TOP SECRET SAUCE VIDEOS” from AppSumo that I’ll never watch or put into action. And most importantly, I feel more fufilled and happier. Maybe this is because I actually have assets to show for my time instead of familiarity with a million things which I probably will forget or never use.
The truth is learning something new is far easier than actually doing work and/or mastering a skill. Learning addiction is dangerous because it provides the satisfaction that we’re bettering ourselves. When we’re forced with the option of doing mentally strenuous work like writing/problem solving or learning something new we’ll often choose learning something new. Why? Because both make us feel productive and learning something new is easier. My personal belief is that this rationalization results in a heavy focus on inputs instead of outputs. There needs to be a shift in balance here which will I’m going to cover in the followup posts.
Better reasons to read 850 books and 40,732 blog posts in 2012:
- You love reading and are doing it for enjoyment, not primarily for career progression and self improvement.
- The books are all focused on a very narrow topic so that by reading you actually are developing deep domain knowledge of something. Startups is not a narrow topic.
- To be effective at your job, you need to consume this insane amount of content. This might be someone writing a graduate thesis. This is definitely not someone trying raise 300k.
- The content is geared toward and coincides with actionable steps. I.E. I read a book on python and develop a small app in the process from the knowledge I’m gaining as I read.
- You love making Jeff Bezos even richer.
Note my thoughts and prescriptions here are purely reflective of my own experience. I recognize that we all are unique and behave differently. Maybe reading all day will get you where you want to go the fastest. That just isn’t the case for me. Just do yourself the favor of being honest with yourself. Are all these inputs really giving you the highest ROI of your time?